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How Colony Park Wants to Face its Challenges as Development Looms

Carrie Powell for KUT News
The proposed plan covers 208 acres in northeast Austin.

Colony Park, out near the Travis County Expo Center, is one of those neighborhoods in Austin that’s a mixed bag. The area is getting nicer in some ways, but it’s also facing some hard-to-fix challenges.

During the last couple of years, the community has been studying the positive aspects of Colony Park in order to take advantage of them.

If you look at the challenges facing Colony Park, there are many. The Travis County Expo Center is nearby and traffic during events there can be horrendous. Then, if you were to go to Kisha Mungkornpanich's house, you'll notice there's a water treatment plant you can see out her window. Next to the plant is Travis State Jail.

Mungkornpanich has only lived in the community for three years. And since she moved in, a new recycling center set-up shop. The first few months she had to comfort her two small children to sleep every night while the recycling center cleared the metal.

"You can hear them clearing out something and it's this metal on metal, CLANG, CLANG, CLANG!" Mungkornpanich says. "I mean it's just so ridiculously loud."

All of that is on one side of the community. In contrast, the other side is almost 300 acres of open fields. Depending on how you look at it, the fields can be a blessing or a curse. A curse because there are no clinics nearby, no cafes, no nothing. Open fields are to city planners what blank canvases are to painters.

Standing in front of the fields, City of Austin planner Zachary Stern says the community has been brainstorming what to do in Colony Park for at least a couple of years and they have developed a master plan. They called it "Five Hills" because there are five hills that kind of delineate the spot.

"We are actually preserving those hill tops as open common spaces for everyone," Stern says. "Folks can come there, be able to enjoy those views, they're not going to be developed on. No houses, no businesses."

But the surrounding areas will be developed. There are plans for an aquatics facility, for some ball fields, for trails that would connect with the existing communities. And there are plans for lots of construction aimed at economic development in the area. Once the project gets the green light, it'll take anywhere from 20 to 30 years to see it finished. By then, Stern says, even the freight train could turn into a blessing because those train tracks "are in CapMetro's long term plans to turn that rail line into a commuter rail connecting downtown Austin all the way out to Elgin." A tentative stop is planned at Loyola and Johnny Morris Road.

All this and more will be revealed today from 4 to 7 p.m. when the city unveils the master plan for the area at the Turner-Roberts Recreation Center on 7201 Colony Loop Drive.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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